Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 28, 2016)
After a relatively fallow period, Quentin Tarantino enjoyed a mid-career renaissance via two consecutive successes: 2009’s Inglourious Basterds and 2012’s Django Unchained. Both did very well at the box office and received good critical notices. Tarantino got his first Oscar nominations since 1994’s Pulp Fiction - and won the Best Original Screenplay prize for Django.
Alas, Tarantino’s streak ended with the fairly lackluster reception that came for 2015’s The Hateful Eight. Though the movie got a lot of attention for its use of super-widescreen 70mm photography, it nabbed good but not great reviews and sputtered at the box office. Eight’s $53 million US became Tarantino’s lowest-grossing film since 1997’s Jackie Brown.
Like many, I failed to see Eight theatrically, largely because the “buzz” around it seemed so mild. Still, Tarantino’s track record makes everything he does a “must see” project, even if the viewing waits for Blu-ray.
Set not too long after the end of the Civil War, bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell) transports his prisoner – alleged murderer Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) – to the town of Red Rock, Wyoming. Along the way, two passengers join their stagecoach: former Union soldier turned bounty hunter Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) and alleged new Red Rock sheriff Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins).
As the stagecoach proceeds, it encounters a blizzard, so the passengers hole up at stopover called Minnie’s Haberdashery. There they encounter four others, and the inhabitants find themselves stuck together as tensions escalate.
While the notion of a 2.76:1 70mm effort excited film buffs, many wondered how useful these cinematic choices would be for a story like Eight. After all, one associates super-widescreen with bigger-than-life epics such as Ben-Hur, not a tale that takes place largely inside one confined setting.
I admit that added to the reasons I didn’t see Eight theatrically. The novelty of 70mm intrigued me, but it seemed like such a waste to use the format on something that sounded an awful lot like an Agatha Christie mystery. Would they shoot a remake of Clue at 2.76:1?
Eight does manage some effective cinematography at times, mainly through the Wyoming exteriors – those can be stunning. Still, I can’t help but feel that Taratino opted for 70mm more as a gimmick and a “pro-celluloid” statement than anything else. Would this movie be any worse if made at 2.35:1 – or even 1.85:1? No – even though I do like those nature shots, the story doesn’t need them to succeed.
Eight could use more judicious editing, however. At nearly three hours, the movie goes awfully long, and I don’t think it needs that length. Indeed, I suspect the tale would fare better if it lost a decent portion of that running time.
This seems especially true during the movie’s first half. Eight spends roughly its opening 90 minutes on character introduction and development, which seems fine – to a degree. I’m all for good exposition, but I don’t think this film needs all the character material we get.
Let’s face it: the roles in Eight never really rise above Western archetypes, so all the time Tarantino spends on their development doesn’t truly go anywhere. Sure, he manages to build a bit of tension amid internecine concerns, but I continue to suspect the movie could’ve gotten through those areas more quickly without any loss of depth.
After the long, slow build-up, Eight becomes more dynamic in its second half. That’s when we get more traditional Tarantino elements – namely interpersonal cruelty and graphic violence. The story kicks into much higher gear, too, as the various simmering tensions come to the fore.
And it’s all… pretty good. However, Tarantino long ago set the bar so high that “pretty good” doesn’t satisfy as much as it should. Maybe it’s not fair, but we expect greatness every time out from Tarantino, and Eight falls far short of that level.
Would it have come closer with a shorter running time? Perhaps, but I remain unconvinced that the movie boasts the substance to rise above its status as “pretty good”. The film simply lacks the spark that we expect from Tarantino; there’s something a bit forced about the whole enterprise that makes it less than enthralling.
I must admit I’ve become more than a little tired with Tarantino’s nearly pathological fascination with the “N-word”. Nearly every Tarantino movie uses that pejorative in abundance, and I think that it’s unnecessary the vast majority of the time.
So why does Tarantino do it? I don’t really know. Sure, Tarantino has given explanations over the years, but I find these unsatisfying and without a lot of logic. The “N-word” just seems to be some odd crutch of his, and he deploys it with a nearly Tourette Syndrome lack of inhibition.
I suspect the main claim for the “N-word” – and the liberal use of “bitch” thrown at Daisy – comes from the “that’s how people talked” argument. And to a degree, that’s true, but I still believe Eight throws these terms out to an unnecessary extreme. It goes beyond “that’s how people talked” and turns into a pointless distraction.
Word choices aside, The Hateful Eight offers a reasonably interesting Western. However, “reasonably interesting” seems like faint praise for a film by Quentin Tarantino. In terms of his filmography, Eight seems mid-tier; I like much of it but can’t claim that it approaches greatness.
Note that theatrical screenings of Eight came in two flavors. On Christmas Day 2015, a 187-minute “roadshow” version opened on 100 screens. This was the only way to see the film in full 70mm. A few weeks later, the movie broadened to thousands more screens, but those ran a shorter 167-minute 35mm cut.
The Blu-ray provides the edited Eight, though it doesn’t lose as much content as one might infer. While the shorter version lasts 20 minutes less than the roadshow, 16 of the “removed” minutes came from an overture and an intermission. This means only six minutes of narrative material got cut for the 35mm version.
Because I only saw the shorter edition, I can’t comment on the changes. I do find it odd that the Blu-ray opts for the 35mm cut, though. Perhaps we’ll get the “roadshow” version later, but it seems like the one fans would most want to see, so I don’t know why it doesn’t appear here.